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In re Inquiry of Broadbelt

October 10, 1996

IN RE: THE INQUIRY OF EVAN W. BROADBELT, J.M.C.


On review of an opinion of the Advisory Committee on Extrajudicial Activities.

Justices Handler, Pollock, O'hern, Garibaldi, Stein, and Coleman join in the opinion of the Court.

(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).

In re: The Inquiry of Evan W. Broadbelt, J.M.C. (A-71-95)

Argued January 17, 1996 -- Decided October 10, 1996

PER CURIAM

This case concerns whether a sitting municipal court Judge may appear on television to comment on cases pending in other jurisdictions.

Evan W. Broadbelt has been a municipal court Judge since 1982. He serves five municipalities in Monmouth and Ocean counties. A well-respected municipal Judge, Judge Broadbelt appeared on "Court TV" in excess of fifty times since 1992, serving as a guest commentator. Since November 1994, Judge Broadbelt also appeared on CNBC three times to discuss the O.J. Simpson trial. He also appeared on a local television program to discuss generally the jurisdiction and procedures of the municipal courts. Judge Broadbelt was not compensated for any of those television appearances.

In December 1994, Monmouth County Assignment Judge Lawrence Lawson requested that all Monmouth County municipal court Judges notify him before making any television appearances. After twice giving Judge Broadbelt permission to appear on "Geraldo Live," Judge Lawson withdrew his permission and requested that Judge Broadbelt refrain from appearing on television. After Judge Broadbelt noted his disagreement with that decision, Judge Lawson referred the matter to the Supreme Court's Advisory Committee on Extrajudicial Activities (ACEA). After considering the matter, the ACEA issued Opinion No. 13-95, which determined that Judge Broadbelt's activities did not conform to Canon 2B of the Code of Judicial Conduct and the ACEA's implementing Guideline (IV.C.1).

Judge Broadbelt petitioned the Court for review of the ACEA's decision. The Court granted the petition for review.

HELD : Television appearances by a municipal court Judge as a commentator on pending cases in other jurisdictions violates Canons 3A(8) and 2B of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

1. Canon 3A(8) prohibits Judges from commenting on pending cases in any jurisdictions. Judge Broadbelt's comments violated that Canon, which is clear and unambiguous. The Judge's comments had the potential to compromise the integrity of the judiciary in New Jersey. The ACEA is directed to modify its Guideline III.A.5.a to conform to the language of the Canon. (pp. 4-11)

2. Judge Broadbelt's regular appearances on commercial television violated Canon 2B, which forbids a Judge from "lending the prestige of office to advance the private interests of others *** ." Although not every television appearance will be improper, or will create the appearance of impropriety, exceptional caution and discretion are necessary on the part of Judges who are invited to participate in television work. The Court looks to the ACEA to help formulate standards that will govern such appearances in the future. (pp. 12-17)

3. Although Judge Broadbelt's conduct could be viewed as authorized by Canon IV of the Code (a Judge "may engage in activities to improve the law, the legal system, and the administration of Justice"), conduct that is violative of another canon is not excused because it appears to be authorized by Canon 4. (pp. 18-19)

4. The restrictions placed on Judge Broadbelt's speech do not violate the First Amendment because the regulation of that speech furthers a substantial governmental interest (unrelated to the suppression of expression) and is no more restrictive than necessary. The preservation of the independence and integrity of the

judiciary -- the interests underlying Canons 3A(8) and 2B are obviously interests of sufficient magnitude to sustain those canons. (pp. 19-24)

As MODIFIED, the opinion of the Advisory Committee on Extrajudicial Activities is AFFIRMED.

JUSTICES HANDLER, POLLOCK, O'HERN, GARIBALDI, STEIN, and COLEMAN join in the opinion of the Court.

PER CURIAM

This appeal concerns whether a sitting municipal court Judge may appear on television to comment on cases pending in other jurisdictions. After the matter was referred to the Advisory Committee on Extrajudicial Activities, the Committee issued Opinion No. 13-95, which disapproved of Judge Broadbelt's appearances on "Court TV" and "Geraldo Live" as a commentator. We granted review, 142 N.J. 443 (1995).

I

The facts are undisputed. Petitioner, Evan W. Broadbelt, has been a municipal court Judge since 1982 and serves five municipalities in Monmouth and Ocean counties. A well-respected municipal Judge, Judge Broadbelt appeared on "Court TV" in excess of fifty times since 1992 to serve as a guest commentator. Since November 1994, Judge Broadbelt appeared on CNBC on three occasions to provide guest commentary on the "O.J. Simpson case," People v. Simpson, No. BA097211 (Cal. Super. Ct. 1995). He also appeared on a local television program in 1994 to discuss generally the jurisdiction and procedures of the municipal courts. Judge Broadbelt did not receive compensation for any of those television appearances.

In December 1994, Judge Lawrence M. Lawson, A.J.S.C., requested that all municipal court Judges notify the Assignment Judge before making any television appearances. After twice giving Judge Broadbelt permission to appear on "Geraldo Live," Judge Lawson, on March 20, 1995, withdrew his approval and requested that Judge Broadbelt refrain from appearing on television. After Judge Broadbelt noted his disagreement with Judge Lawson's decision, Judge Lawson referred the issue to the Advisory Committee on Extrajudicial Activities (Committee). That Committee, which is appointed by this Court, accepts inquiries about extrajudicial activities from a Judge or this Court. R. 1:18A -1, -2. After an oral decision, the Committee issued Opinion No. 13-95, pursuant to Rule 1:18A-4, and determined that Judge Broadbelt's activities did not conform with Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct (Code) and Guideline IV.C.1. of the Guidelines for Extrajudicial Activities for New Jersey Judges.

The Code consists of seven canons that provide guidance to Judges on the manner in which they are to conduct themselves. The canons are intended to maintain the integrity of the judiciary and to foster public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary. In re Seaman, 133 N.J. 67, 96, 627 A.2d 106 (1993); see Pressler, Current N.J. Court Rules, comment on Code of Judicial Conduct, Canons 1 and 2 (1996). Although we conclude that Judge Broadbelt's conduct violated Canons 3A(8) and 2B, we note that we have not previously addressed the issues presented by this appeal and that adequate guidance concerning appearances by Judges on television may not previously have been available.

II

Although not the focus of the Committee's determination, we first consider whether Judge Broadbelt's commentary violated Canon 3A(8). Canon 3 provides that Judges "should perform the duties of judicial office impartially and diligently." Extrajudicial duties should not encroach on or conflict with those duties. Report of Supreme Court Committee on Extrajudicial Activities, 117 N.J.L.J. 367, 367 (Mar. 20, 1986)(Report). Canon 3A(8) of the Code *fn1 provides:

A Judge should abstain from public comment about a pending or impending proceeding in any court and should require similar abstention on the part of court personnel subject to the Judge's direction and control. This subsection does not prohibit Judges from making public statements in the course of their official duties or from explaining for public information the procedures of the court.

Judge Broadbelt argues that Canon 3(A) does not govern his televised legal commentary about pending cases because his conduct was extrajudicial in nature, and not a "duty of office" subject to the strictures of Canon 3. Additionally, petitioner and amicus both urge this Court to apply Guideline III.A.5.a (which prohibits only comment on cases pending in New Jersey courts), contending that under that Guideline the conduct is permissible. Amicus asks this Court to adopt a special test, pursuant to ...


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